Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I (Still) Believe BDS is an Effective Way to End the Occupation

"Welcome to Palestine"

My readers will not be surprised to hear that the Trump election – and its aftermath of lies, deceit and bad executive orders - has put me into a deep “funk.”  I took some “time off” to process what has happened and how to keep sane while fighting against all that this man and his administration represent to me.  And now I’m back to the beginning – picking my fights and using my energy on issues that matter most to me!

For me, this is personal.  I'm a lifelong Methodist – and remain such because I firmly believe in the principles of social justice that the Methodist church embraces.  I've done a lot of Volunteer in Mission travel, and seen a lot of places where justice is in short supply, but none of them has impacted me the way that the situation in Palestine impacted me. 
Taybeh Checkpoint - Occupied Palestinian Territories
I tell people that I grew up on the “Exodus Myth” - I read Diary of Anne Frank and Exodus back-to-back when I was a young teenager, and saw the film versions of both.  “Of course the Jews deserve a homeland after what they have been through,” I thought – “and of course that homeland should be the unpopulated Palestine!”

Fast forward 50 years to 2007, when I heard a presentation by Sandy Olewine, a former Methodist Liaison to the Holy Land, and my eyes popped open!  Until that time, I had known nothing of the 1.5 million people who lived in Palestine in 1947, or of the Nakba, or the Wall.  I also did not know the extent to which my government was supporting Israel – using my tax dollars to perpetrate the atrocities that the Israeli government was carrying on.

In 2008, I was one of 80+ participants in a Study Trip through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministry (GBGM), which brought together Methodists from a number of countries to see, first-hand, the situation in Palestine/Israel.  I came home determined to learn more – and to share what I did know as widely as possible.
My teammate Esteban monitors a school checkpoint
A few years later, I learned about the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), and, in the spring of 2013, I spent three months with EAPPI (“dual qualified” as a UMIVIM) in the Palestinian city of Tulkarm.  I lived and worked with internationals from 13 different countries, with ages ranging from 21-75.  I was warned before going that the experience would be life-changing – and it was!

I spent my time in Tulkarm monitoring checkpoints – labor, agricultural and school – first, because the theory was that people (in this case IDF soldiers) would behave better if they were being watched, and also to document the situation in reports that ultimately ended up with the United Nations. 
Waiting at an agricultural checkpoint

We were also called upon to monitor demonstrations – not to participate, but, to provide a neutral perspective and to keep things peaceful.  Farmers would call us if their olive trees were being burned or their crops and livestock stolen.  School principals would call us if a school bus was being detained at a checkpoint.  Sometime we could do something – most of the time we could not.  Still, the people were appreciative of our presence.

In our training, it was drilled in us that we were neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli; we were simply pro-peace.  But how can there be peace when soldiers are arresting children in the middle of the night?  Or blocking farmers from accessing their crops, their livelihood?

One day we learned that an elderly shepherd had been beaten and left for dead.  At the end of the day, his sheep had come home without him and his family went searching.  They found him in his field and got him to a doctor.  Thankfully, he survived.  But, because he was taken to an Israeli hospital, his family was not allowed to visit him. 

One final story.  Toward the end of my stay, we got a call that IDF soldiers had shot some teenaged boys.  Nobody knows exactly what happened – but two boys died that night, one shot in the back.  Needless to say, the families (who we met later) were devastated! 
Funeral procession for two boys killed by Israeli soldiers
 (photo by Adeline Morani)
Part of being an EA is advocacy – and that's what I've been doing for the past four years.  There are many organizations working on the human rights issues in Palestine/Israel, but I knew I had to focus – and I knew my focus would be the Methodist Church.  We have a long history of working for social justice, of feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.  And many Palestinian people are homeless right now because of the Occupation. 

There are times I feel it is a hopeless battle – our government is too entrenched with the Israel Lobby to have the motivation to make them behave better.  And too many people believe the “Land Without People for a People Without Land” myth that I once believed.  But it is widely acknowledged that BDS is what ended the Apartheid era in South Africa.  And I believe that BDS is the best tool we have to end the Apartheid era in Palestine!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Anti-BDS in a "Blue Bubble"

Oregon Governor Kate Brown
I thought I was immune.  I thought that living in the Pacific Northwest, where my two Senators, four of my five Congresspersons, my Governor and my state legislature were all Democrats would protect me and the rest of my fellow Oregonians from the crazy conservativism that hit the USA with the election of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (still can't bring myself to say his name!).  I was wrong.

Last week I learned that an anti-BDS bill had been introduced in the state legislature of neighboring Washington state.  A few days later, I learned the Jewish Federation of Oregon was "shopping" a similar bill to the Oregon State Legislature, looking for a representative to introduce it.  I also learned the American Jewish Committee was circulating a "Governors Against BDS Letter," seeking the signatures of all 50US Governors.

Following is the letter that I wrote to my state legislators (with a similar letter going to the Governor):
Oregon State Senator Ginny Burdick

Dear Senator Burdick –

I write to ask you, first, to not put forward or sponsor a bill that would make BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions) against companies complicit with the illegal Israeli Occupation of Palestine illegal and, further, if such an unconstitutional bill should come before the Oregon State Senate to oppose it vigorously!

Why would the State of Oregon even consider such a ludicrous, undemocratic piece of legislation, you may well ask!  Well, as I’m sure you are aware, other states have not only considered such “anti-BDS” bills, they have passed them (20+ states have already passed some form of “anti-BDS” law), and the trend appears to be growing. 

Notwithstanding that such legislation is a clear violation of First Amendment/Free Speech rights, state legislators – emboldened by the new wave of conservatism that is sweeping the USA and aided by groups such as the Jewish Federation (which is the group we are told has drafted a bill for which they are seeking sponsorship here in Oregon) – are seeking to take away our rights as citizens to peacefully protest injustice.

Such bills are sometimes cloaked in the guise of protection from “anti-Semitism,” but there is nothing anti-Semitic about BDS.  The current BDS movement is aimed at the Israeli government and at companies (often American companies such as Caterpillar and Motorola) who are complicit in an occupation that has been going on for 50 years in violation of international law.

As you know, it was BDS that is credited with doing away with apartheid in South Africa, and BDS has been successfully utilized to stop injustice in the US (Civil Rights and farm workers to name just two). 

I spent an extended period of time as a human rights observer in Palestine several years ago, and can personally vouch for the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people.  I would be happy to meet with you and to share why I believe that we in Oregon (and, indeed, across the globe) should do everything we can to bring justice to this tiny piece of real estate. 

But even setting aside that issue, the question for us as Oregonians is why should we even be wasting our time on undemocratic, unconstitutional legislation (that will almost certainly be targeted by the ACLU), when there are so many pressing problems right here that we should be spending our time and energies on?

Thank you for your attention 

Operating under the belief that snail-mail letters gain more attention than e-mail, I posted these letters yesterday.  I'll keep you posted!